This noodle dish was cooked one weeknight when I absolutely had no time to cook. But we still needed to eat. It was one of those days. I was running late. I was swamped with work. When I looked at the clock, I panicked. It was almost 5 o’clock. This only meant supper was an hour away. I had nothing. The kitchen fires were cold. The kitchen was dark and the light was still turned off.
Quickly I scanned the contents of my refrigerator’s vegetable bin. I had a big bag of snow peas, just in from the Asian market. I had some leftover pork pieces from the barbecue skewers the other day. From my pantry, I had my staple ‘sotanghon noodles’ (say ‘soh-tang-hon’). These are light noodles, if uncooked look thin and translucent. When soaked then mixed into the stir fry dish, they become as transparent as glass. They are also called ‘cellophane noodles’ and made from mung bean starch, according to author, Pat Tanumihardja in“The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook.”
I have always loved these type of shiny noodles in Filipino recipes. Years ago, my mom made sotanghon-based noodle dishes often for parties or big events. Back then, I thought it was because sotanghon was expensive. On the contrary. These cellophane noodles are very affordable and can be found in Asian markets. Once cooked, they expand and the amount increases, thus extending serving sizes even more. The more noodles, the better for everyone around the table.
What are snow peas? Snow peas are also called ‘sitsaro’ (say ‘seet-sah-roh’) in the Philippines and usually available all year long. I find them all the time. These are flat, about 2 inches long, and have pointed tips which contain those fibrous string-like stems. You want to pull on those strings at the end with your fingers. It’s a cinch to do. You can even do this routine of taking out the fibrous thread while the ‘sotanghon noodles’ are soaking in water, which only needs a 20 minute soak.
Prep time to get all your ingredients in order is only a few fast minutes. The best part of cooking for me is to hear the sizzle of the saute and inhale the Asian aromas of fish sauce from this activity. Like I’ve always said if you can saute garlic and onions, then it’s easy going from there on. Throw in the chopped celery, the pork bits and pour the rest of the ingredients. If you can manage to toss in some of that achuete oil, the noodles will turn a bright, blazing orange color. The flavors in the saute skillet suddenly come alive. Achuete oil (from annatto seeds cooked in oil and garlic) emits a nutty, roasty flavor which coats itself all round the clear noodles.
As you twirl the fork or chopsticks around the slippery, slinky noodles, catch a few pieces of the crisp snow peas along the way. Gather it all in a bundle, grasp it, chomp on it and just wallow in how deliciously easy it was to save supper tonight.
Sotanghon guisado with sitsaro is one of the most basic and versatile Filipino noodle dishes. It starts with an easy saute of the basic ingredients garlic, onions and celery. The pre-soaked transparent-looking sotanghon noodles cook in a minute as soon as it’s added to the skillet with the sautéed meat and vegetables. Toss and turn the noodles all around and dinner is done. Serve this for a weeknight family meal or increase the amount and have it for a big party anytime. This recipe is an AsianInAmericamag.com recipe and serves 2 to 4.
- sotanghon or cellophane noodles - 16 ounces, pre-soaked in water, 2 cups uncooked (from Asian markets)
- pork belly (pre-boiled) - 1/4 pound, cut in 1 inch cube pieces
- vegetable or corn oil - 2 Tablespoons
- achuete oil - 4 Tablespoons (from annatto seeds cooked in cooking oil and garlic), see recipe below
- onion - 1 whole, chopped
- garlic - 4 cloves, minced
- celery - 1 stalk, chopped (about 3/4 cup)
- patis or fish sauce - 2 Tablespoons (from Asian markets or major supermarkets)
- vegetable or chicken broth - 1 cup
- snow peas or 'sitsaro' - 2 cups, edges trimmed
- lemon juice - from 1 whole piece, about 1 Tablespoon
- green onions or scallions - 1-2 stalks, chopped (about 1/3 cup), for garnish, optional
- In a medium sized bowl filled with water at room temperature, soak the noodles for 20 minutes. Then drain noodles and keep in a colander. Set aside till ready to use.
- In a large skillet, over medium high heat, add both the vegetable and achuete oil. Once oil is hot after 1 minute, add the onions, garlic and celery. Add the pre-cooked pork belly cubes. Saute for 2 to 3 minutes till vegetables are soft.
- Add the patis or fish sauce. Then add the broth. Let the liquid come to a boil in about 2 minutes, then lower heat to a simmer.
- Add the snow peas and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Do not overcook the snow peas or they will not be crisp. Mix in the drained cellophane noodles to the simmering saute. Toss all the ingredients together. The noodles will cook and soften in 1 to 2 minutes within adding to the skillet. Sprinkle with the juice of a lemon all over. Garnish with green onions. Serve hot.
ACHUETE OIL RECIPE : I often use achuete oil in many dishes. It is something I make ahead and store in the refrigerator.Find the complete Achuete oil recipe is in a previous post. Annato or achuete provides the appetizing orange glossy colors of the dish, as well as a nutty, salty flavor. If preferred, you may omit the use of the annato oil and add more vegetable oil to the saute.
Cook's Comments: Thanks to a reader's comment, I corrected the error and added the pork belly cubes in the instructions during the sauté. For this recipe, I pre-boiled the pork belly ahead in water for 20 minutes (for this amount) to pre-cook and soften the meat.
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